Friday, December 13, 2013

The Cinema File #283: "Byzantium" Review

I have a word document on my computer dedicated to rough drafts of my reviews, and at the top of the first page is a list of films that I have recently seen, but have yet to write about. Typically this list changes by the day as I attempt to review most if not all of the movies I see, but occasional there are one or two movies that linger for weeks, or even months. The Tina Fey dramedy Admission probably hung around the longest, stuck in the top spot until I finally gave up, unable to think of anything meaningful to say about it. Byzantium is a close second, but not for lack of an analytical approach. I just really wish I could pretend this movie never happened to me. Unfortunately, since I already reviewed one of the better vampire movies of the last few years, I suppose it’s only right that I tackle one of the worst.

Byzantium is the story of a mother daughter pair of vampiresses on the run from an ancient order of misogynistic vampire lords, holing themselves up in the titular decrepit hotel. Of course, I say vampire, but what I really mean is immortal bloodsucking humans with one really sharp fingernail in place of fangs who can walk in sunlight. Or, to be more accurate, not vampires. Not to sound like a broken record on this, but aren’t vampires interesting enough as a cinematic concept that we don’t need to fuck with them at this point? I know it’s easier on a production to be able to do day shoots, but if that’s the issue, do fucking Frankenstein, or some other monster that can walk in the day. If you’re going to make a vampire movie, it’s not too much to ask to put some actual vampires in it.

And before you question me on my high standards, let me explain how these vampires are transformed from humans into bloodsucking fiends. Naturally, you would think I wouldn’t have to explain it in all that much detail, because short of a few incidental tweaks here and there, this is usually the same wherever you go, biting, draining, killing, reviving, maybe a sharing of blood depending on the mythos you’re working in, but for the most part its all uniform. Of course, most movies leave out the part about having to travel to one uncharted island and meeting your own ghostly doppelganger, who kills you, so that you can wake up and bathe in a waterfall of mysteriously magical blood. There’s artsy, and then there’s just stupid, and this isn’t even visually interesting enough to justify the attempt at artsy.

Why would a vampire need to run a two bit whore house? Even on the run, you can’t set up a few bank accounts under false names and just let the arc of time and interest net you a nest egg? Why does the girl write her story only to cast it onto the wind wherever she goes, and then write the story down for people she knows will be killed as a result of reading it? Oh yeah, and she only kills people who consent to dying, mostly the old and infirm, because just when you think we might at least get some of the tragic horror of a being clinging to their humanity as they are forced to feed on humans, thus presenting at least some natural downside to being a vampire, Byzantium shrugs and just throws in a bullshit plot device in the form of two utterly uninteresting characters too boring to deserve as inherently kickass a title as vampire bounty hunters.

But then, that’s all ephemera, and if the story and the characters were interesting independent of the supernatural elements, I’d be willing to forgive the slight. The biggest issue with Byzantium is that it is just so. Fucking. Boring. The movie is bookended by two passably entertaining action/chase sequences that suggest a lot of promise, but the long slog of unbearable middle is just too much to bear. This is why the half-hearted attempt at faux-vampires is so infuriating to me, because above all else, no matter how you mess with their biology, vampires should be awesome, or shouldn’t be in the movie at all. If the introduction of a vampire doesn’t make your movie kick ass, than you don’t know how to make movies. I would call this the Twilight Rule, but then Byzantium might just beat that out in terms of sheer unwatchability. Twilight may be cloying, but at least it’s speaking to its audience; this is just pitiful. The fact that its directed by the same guy who did The Company of Wolves and Interview With The Vampire only makes it that much sadder.

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